This week's Answer:
Contrive or Not to Contrive? That is the Contrived
want to tell you, Alyson, but I'm afraid you'll think my
answer will come across as too contrived. Just kidding.
And that was another contrivance. What I'm getting
at here in an oblique way is that screenplays are
completely contrived. Every beat, every moment in a script
has been created for a purpose. A better question would be
"How do you keep your script from appearing
contrived? Ah, now, there's the rub. (Why would Hamlet
mention "rub" in his dramatic speech about
living or dying? Answer: Mister William Shakespeare
contrived it as such.)
we watch a movie, we know that it can last only so long,
so the story has to fit into that amount of time. We're
aware that we're going to be told some kind of story
usually about a person or persons who are going to
eventually answer a call to an adventure that turns his
world upside down and pit him/herself or themselves
against some antagonistic force that will most likely
force the person/persons to face some flaw in
his/her/their character and be willing to sacrifice
everything to overcome the obstacles and the foe before
there. That's a contrivance. It's a basic story that has
been told for many ages. But it's still a contrivance.
once the screenwriter realizes that everything is
contrived in a script, one of his goals is to write the
screenplay so well that the audience "fuses"
with it so deeply that it doesn't notice how
contrived it is. Another way of putting it: the
screenwriter brings the audience in so closely
emotionally, engrossing it to the point that it is more
subjective than objective and, when that happens, as
in an optical illusion (which a movie is: an illusion),
the contrivances disappear.
we stay too objective when watching movies, here are some
of the things we might say to ourselves or to others
(which could be a problem) when we watch a film: "Oh,
come on. The phone rings right at that moment just when
she walks into her place!?" and "Really? There
just happened to be a knife next to her when the attacker
pushes her against the counter?!". And "You want
me to believe that the one city she moved to happened to
be the home of her ex-boyfriend who happens to still love
her?" and "You're telling me that the target
just happened to bend over at the very moment the sniper
pulled the trigger to shoot him?"
you ever notice how the hero in busy city with heavy
traffic always has a parking space open right in front of
the building he's going to? How as soon as a lawyer is
stumped or thwarted about a case, something happens right
away that gives him new hope and a new way to win it? (Of
course. We can't be expected to watch somebody for minutes
or days when nothing important happens.) How when it looks
like the hero's options are all gone and she is facing
certain destruction, she'll either suddenly see something
or remember something or suddenly aid appears so that she
wins the day even though all seemed lost only minutes ago?
(We breathe a sigh of relief -- but, if we haven't been
living under a "no movie watching" rock, it's a
sigh that we're very familiar with and it usually comes
very close to the end of the movie. All is lost. Wait. All
is won. That was fast. Doesn't seem that realistic when
you think about it, does it? Ohhhhh. Contrivance.
a minute. Why are you, Douglas, writing about contrived
scripts at this time when you could be answering anybody
else's email question?
what I mean?